Little known fact: I invented the blog. Managed to do it proto-style, in print, and achieve a level of virality before the Internet even existed. A pretty neat trick, if you think about it. Should’ve made me famous, or rich at the very least. Instead, all I got was this lousy WordPress account.
In 1992, I moved to Maine from my native Massachusetts, and as a way of keeping up with friends and family, I started publishing a newsletter dubbed The Harold Herald, a moderately clever handle enabled by my given name, Harold Gardner Phillips III. The motto, “All the news about Hal that Hal deems fit to print”, pretty much summed up the original mission. I wrote all the copy, accounting for the vagaries of my new existence, laid it out in Pagemaker, made a bunch of copies and mailed them out. My mother thought it was hilarious.
Technically it was a fanzine, and there were a few of those around at the time, though, without the Internet, what did we really know about what was happening elsewhere in the world? However, no self-published newsletter that I was aware of, or have since been made aware of, fixated so pointedly on the personal — the way blogs and other social media do today, routinely. Much of it was a parody of journalism in general; newspapers had a masthead so I concocted and continually updated a fake one larded with cultural snark and inside jokes:
Publisher: Harold Gardner Phillips, III
Editor-in-Chief: Hal Phillips
Virtual Editor: Dr. David M. Rose, Ph.D.
Managing Editor: Formletter McKinley
Associate Editor: Throatwarbler Mangrove
Production Manager: Quinn Martin
Circulation Manager: Dr. Margaret Bean-Bayog
Weapons Consultant: Michael Fay
Drug Tsar: Lou’s “Man”
Spiritual Consultant: Massasoit
Bamboo Advisor: Lee Kwan Yoo, Prime Minister Emeritus
Motivational Consultant: Danny Gibbons, Speak, Inc.
I don’t even remember “Lou”, much less his man. But like Barnaby Jones and Mannix, it was a Quinn Martin Production.
This sort of content was interspersed with actual travel logs, book and movie reviews, commentaries, cartoons featuring a recurring neo-nazi named Gunther, even actual news items. Of course, when I bought a new pair of boots, that was news. In time, an increasing number of contributors added their own banalities to the mix and it was all the richer for it.
These HH issues — from 1993 through 1998, I averaged 8-10 editions annually — got passed around. The Portland Press-Herald did a feature and the phenomenon garnered a bit more press, in the Boston Globe and the New England Newspaper Association Bulletin. At one point I cheekily pressed readers for stamp money ($20 earned one a lifetime subscription) and lo and behold they responded. Now, I wouldn’t say it rolled in, but still… At its high point, we had nearly 900 subscribers and a dozen regular contributors. It pays to have friends and family who can write.
When we moved to Camp Vanderlips in 1998, we had a party and naturally the invite warranted full-on feature coverage. A half dozen people I’d never met showed up; one, the sainted Luella, brought a vintage two-man saw with “Camp Vanderlips” emblazoned on the blade, a housewarming gift.
Eventually the responsibilities of wife, family, home and my business squeezed the life out of the HH. There was simply no time for such frivolity, and there certainly wasn’t any money in it. When the Internet arrived and blogging began in earnest, there was a half-hearted attempt to adapt it (see here an early bulletin board version, and note just how early the late-1990s were in the cyber-education of the culture). But the thrill and the moment were gone. Now I have this blog and, if you think about it, I’m more or less contributing to the burial of my own legacy.
This makes no sense at all.
Every once in a while I come across something that reminds me of the Herald, or something I or someone else wrote for it. A great many of the stories still exist, online and here on my laptop. I’ll read some items and cringe, but other bits are intriguing windows on the ‘90s zeitgeist, on the media form as it existed back then, before the fall, and on me.
In March it’ll be 20 years since I moved to Maine. I’m thinking of dipping back into the Herald archives and offering selections here as a sort of retrospective, if only to stake my claim on history — and give another, perhaps wider airing to the work of others. Because I can take credit for that, too.
Here’s the first plucking from the HH Archives, which ran in a 1994 issue. Baby Boomers came under a lot of fire in the Herald; because my contemporaries and I have had the misfortune of following this all-consuming, self-absorbed horde for decades, navigating the scorched-earth path they’ve routinely left in their wake.
Boomers mark lunar landing with trademark cant
Okay, I admit it. I haven’t the faintest clue as to what I was doing or where I was that July evening when messrs. Armstrong & Aldrin set the standard for political one-upsmanship by setting foot on the lunar surface. I’m sorry, but I was not yet five years old during the summer of ’69 when Americans huddled before black & white Philcos and listened to Walter Cronkite verbalize their own sense of wonder. As best I can surmise, I was either digging my way underneath the backyard fence or blissfully sacked out atop my rubber sheet.
However, having endured the avalanche of news coverage marking the event’s 25th anniversary, I could surely conjure a false memory and join in the mass catharsis, contrived rot that it is.
“Where were you when Apollo landed?”
“Oh, I was still at Antioch. I remember stocking the microbus, about to leave for Woodstock, when Mara called me inside. We sat in front of the TV, ate some mushrooms and complained about Nixon… and the Army. Then we played some Donovan and tried to agree on our mantra for the weekend.”
“Wow, that’s great… So, how are things at Morgan Stanley?”
Where were you when Bobby Kennedy was shot? You were at Monterey, weren’t you? Remember when we got brained outside the convention in Chicago?
These are questions Baby Boomers still ask each other, over and over again, usually at cocktail parties thrown by investment houses somewhere in mid-town Manhattan. The moon landing is especially good fodder because its foundation was laid by the oft-recalled President Kennedy, the single greatest beneficiary of this intense need of Boomers to explore their collective memory.
The lunar expedition, or rather the 25th anniversary thereof, is merely the latest example the Boomers’ super-annuated nostalgia — made all the more ironic by the generation’s complete disinterest in further space exploration. These are the people who castigated American capitalism, then bought Saabs and now summer in Bar Harbor; the people who remember the Apollo landing as a timeless example of American will and know-how, then pointedly ask what purpose the Shuttle serves.
Despite their vast capacity for contradiction and hypocrisy, Boomers cling to these memories — and the ideals they once represented — because they can’t bear to look forward.
Boomers are obsessed with nostalgia because they’re afraid to imagine where in hell they’ll take the country next. Responsible as they are for the 1970s and ’80s, Boomers are content — nay, obsessed — with idealization of the ’60s, that period before they fucked up the country and compromised everything for which they had presumably stood.
The 25th anniversary of the lunar landing is just the latest in what has been a nauseating string of ’60s pop culture memorials, orchestrated by Boomers now in control of the nation’s media outlets. And they’re not done yet!
Did you enjoy Dan Rather’s live report from Woodstock II? Well, get ready for Katie Couric on location at the Cambodian border, marking Nixon’s clandestine bombings; Joan Lunden, a tear in her eye, wishing you “Good Morning” from Paris beside Jim Morrison’s grave; Peter Jennings standing in the Rose Garden, pointing to the spot where Nixon waved goodbye (With all due respect to the recently aired BBC documentary, the U.S. retrospective will take place in 1999, the 25th anniversary of Watergate’s unsavory resolution when Boomers finally ascended and their parents grudgingly stepped aside).
Mercifully, the deluge will likely stop there because, as we’ve discussed, Boomers would sooner trade in their Dockers than relive post-1974 America. Too painful. Too revealing of their own hypocrisy. There will be no anniversary celebrations of Reagan America because all the ex-hippies would rather not discuss why they voted for him, why they worked on Wall Street, why they started acting like their parents had.
Yes, by 1999, the 25-year retrospectives will give way to 30- and 35-year retrospectives — and to a potentially larger obsession: The institutional worry over their sullen, slacking children in Generation X.
It’s possible the Boomers are right about them. Can a generation whose only communal memory is the Challenger Disaster possibly carry on the American Dream?
A valid question, but here’s a better one: Will the Baby Boomers ever realize what Generation X has already grasped — namely, that Boomers boned and gutted the Dream long ago?
Doubtful. Retrospection is one thing; introspection quite another.